On a day that saw four new dramas nominated for best series, some love (but not nearly enough) for Donald Glover’s comedy “Atlanta” and an astonishingly great nomination for Pamela Adlon, is it wrong to complain about what Emmy voters got wrong?
Of course not! Because while Television Academy members showed a willingness to embrace the new, they also fell into the same dispiriting pattern of repetition that has plagued the Emmys for decades.
This year’s nominations reinforced the idea that name-brand recognition still holds too much sway with the Television Academy, even when the shows themselves no longer rank among television’s best.
Past-their-prime “House of Cards” and “Modern Family” continued their streaks of earning nominations for every one of their seasons — eight for “Modern Family,” five for “House of Cards.”
The nod for “Cards” placed it among four first-year drama series — “The Crown,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “This Is Us” and the surprisingly strong “Westworld” (HBO vacuuming up nominations is another Emmy tradition) — along with third-year show “Better Call Saul.”
Lost in the mix was critics favorite “The Americans,” which finally earned a series Emmy nomination last year, seemingly giving it momentum for a continued awards run. You’d think with Russia in the news, voters would have persisted in embracing the FX series’ Cold War plot lines and themes. Nyet.
Likewise, the obit for “Modern Family” proved premature, with the long-running Emmy favorite making it in the comedy series category ahead of Amazon’s “Transparent.” Jill Soloway’s Web-streaming show earned seven nominations but failed to pull down a series nod for the first time. Some families have more staying power. Apparently, the Dunphys and Pritchetts > the Pfeffermans.
The biggest — and most dismaying — beneficiary of Emmy tradition had to be Bill Maher, who came into the morning with 38 previous nominations and was rewarded yet again for his HBO talk series “Real Time.” The controversy surrounding Maher’s use of a racial epithet just before Emmy voting began had no effect on his standing within the Television Academy. Maher has a new reason to feel smug, not that he needed one. Trevor Noah, meanwhile, will have to wait another year for voters to realize just how good he has become as the sharp, engaging host of “The Daily Show.” Maher over Noah ranked as the day’s biggest offense.
Voters also sent a clear message in that variety talk series category, nominating Donald Trump-bashing shows “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” for the first time and casting aside “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Fallon’s September interview with Trump, in which he tousled the Republican candidate’s hair, has been scorned by some for normalizing Trump. Fallon’s snub this year can be correctly seen as payback.
But enough negativity. You want pleasant surprises? How about Pamela Adlon earning a lead actress nomination for her FX comedy “Better Things”? Adlon, a longtime collaborator with Louis C.K., came into her own at age 50, writing, directing, starring in (basically doing everything for) her groundbreaking series that gave voice to single moms doing the hard work of parenting. No television series better captured the drudgery of raising children — as well as the beauty of those fleeting moments of connection. Adlon’s voice on “Better Things” was distinct but universal. She’s an inspiration.
And you don’t get a more distinct comic voice than Zach Galifianakis, which is why his lead actor nomination for “Baskets” (another superb FX comedy) was so warranted. Louie Anderson, Galifianakis’ co-star, won the comedy supporting actor Emmy last year, and he’s even better in the show’s second season. And so is Galifianakis in his depiction of twin man-children, Chip and Dale, searching for meaning and struggling with self-esteem.
“Baskets” is a series on the upswing, proving that it’s possible for Emmy voters to recognize genuine improvement. (And to also know when a young show goes off the rails. “Mr. Robot,” which earned a drama series nod last year and an Emmy for its star, Rami Malek, was shut out of the major categories, save for BD Wong’s guest turn.)
If TV Academy members could just learn to let go a bit sooner of those old (old) favorites, we’d really have a nominations slate to celebrate.